Plans to transform Inverness Castle into a tourist attraction are gathering pace – after proposals for the city’s new £23million justice centre emerged.
The castle – which has been home to Inverness Sheriff Court for years – could eventually become a museum and art gallery as part of a drive to bring more visitors to the north.
But before that can happen, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service must find a new base.
And yesterday, the court service unveiled for the first time that it was looking to build the justice centre on Longman Road, to the south-west of Burnett Road police station.
Part of the brownfield site, which lies between the police station and railway line leading north out of Inverness, was used as a bakery and the rest is owned by Highland Council.
Last night the court service stressed their plans were at a very early stage, and that a final decision has not yet been taken on the location of the centre.
But the proposed move was welcomed by city politicians and business leaders.
Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing, who is also an Inverness MSP, said he was “delighted” to hear the court service had lodged the pre-application inquiry with Highland Council.
He said: “As tourism minister I suggested that there should be established a working group to consider the best future use of Inverness Castle for the purposes of tourism.
“Of course, this requires the sheriff court to relocate.
“A modern justice centre and a visitor attraction and focal point for tourists are worthy and key objectives for the city for the next several decades, and I am very pleased with the solid and constructive work that has taken place and is now beginning to show signs of progress.”
Inverness MP Drew Hendry added: “I think it’s great news for the city that the court service are moving so quickly on this one.
“Clearly the sooner that the castle can be freed up then the quicker that we will start to see the benefits of that and the tourism boost that will be provided.”
The plans to build a justice centre were confirmed by Finance Secretary John Swinney last December, when he set aside £23million in his budget for the project.
The application submitted by the court service does not give many details of the planned building, other than saying it will include “courts, offices and ancillary accommodation” built over two or three storeys.
Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Bid said the plans would be a “good use for the site”.
He added: “We’re delighted with the progress being made in the process of moving the court out of the castle.
“It not only gives the opportunity for the castle to be opened to the public but it is also a real opportunity for the justice system.
“It would mean the court and all of the support services in the vicinity of the police station so that would be a real benefit to the justice system.
“And the obvious benefit to the public would be the chance to create a really first class attraction in the castle.”
A Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) spokesman said: “The SCTS has submitted a pre-planning major development inquiry, not a planning application, to obtain the views of Highland Council in principal to the suitability of a site located within the Longman Road industrial estate as a potential site for the Inverness Justice Centre.
“This is part of a due diligence process being undertaken by the SCTS prior to making any decision on the justice centre location.”
Plans are being developed for the future use of the castle, with the majority of the members of the public who attended a consultation event saying they were in favour of the building becoming the city’s new museum and art gallery.